Civil protection law deals with the law in the event of regionally restricted, national and international disasters.
In Germany, disaster control law is largely the responsibility of the federal states due to federalism. Civil protection and disaster relief are the responsibility of the federal government, as are sub-areas such as infection control. In Europe, Art. 196 TFEU also allows the establishment of a European civil protection system.
A disaster is defined as an occurrence which endangers or damages the life or health of a large number of people, the natural environment or important material assets to an unusual extent. In such cases, the danger can only be averted or the disturbance can only be prevented and remedied if the authorities, departments, organisations and forces involved in civil protection work together under the direction of the civil protection authority.
Disasters include wars, natural disasters, epidemics or – as with Corona/Covid-19 – pandemics. Similarly, the disintegration of alliances (brexite), supply bottlenecks, for example in food, electricity, water or information, refugee movements or financial crises can lead to situations, crises or even disasters.
Powers of the civil protection authorities
In the event of a disaster, governments and authorities are given extensive powers. Not only can they oblige the administrative apparatus and relief organisations involved in civil protection. They also have the power to issue ordinances and administrative acts. To this end, the competent civil protection authority can demand services, material and work from any person in order to avert the disaster and also order the use of property. Areas can be closed and cleared.
Applicability of the law
During the disaster, our legal system applies without restriction; however, it does allow room for manoeuvre. Our legal system is designed to prevent disasters and has proven its worth in crises in the past. No one may or is entitled to suspend the law during the disaster. This applies not only to the authorities issuing the orders, but also to the companies carrying out the work. After the disaster, the measures remain available for later processing. It is all the more important to keep a cool head.
The legal issues associated with a disaster regularly concern the competence of the authorities, the legality and proportionality of the order, but also questions of subsequent compensation for interventions. They usually only concern the courts afterwards. By means of provisional decisions – interim injunctions and orders – the courts can provisionally examine and regulate the measures taken.
Measures are to be checked always and repeatedly also legally, according to the principle of situation – plan – command – situation (see already KatS DV100). So that a new legal situation may also arise in a later examination of the situation.
Preparation for disasters
More important than judicial review, however, seems to me to be the preparation for possible disasters. This includes threat analyses and action plans as well as the procurement and provision of necessary resources. Simulations are used to check processes for their effectiveness and possible alternative threats. This applies not only to authorities and organisations, but also to companies, especially operators of critical infrastructures (Kritis)
But if you deal with disasters early on, you can reduce errors. Contingency plans, staff exercises and the early consideration of legal issues help in this respect.
Legal advisors in Civil Protection Law
Lawyers are also experienced in weighing up and assessing competing fundamental rights. They can assist in weighing up complex issues. Dr. Andreas Staufer is not only active as a consultant in rescue services, but also in disaster control. He has been involved in planning and shaping several staff exercises and major events. He advises authorities and organisations as well as companies on legal issues, including disaster control law.